Empathy and Exemplar-y

Wave 5 of Exemplar has come and gone and closed. (For non-judges reading this: the Exemplar Program is a peer recognition system for the judge program, which allows Level 2 and Level 3 judges to recognize exemplary actions in their own communities and around the world.)

This time around, although there were plenty of social threads reminding people to submit their nominations, I felt that the discussion about Exemplar itself was relatively subdued. Of course, it’s challenging to tie this observation to one specific cause. But I like to think that one factor is the tremendous effort Bryan Prillaman, our Exemplar Lead, has put into answering people’s questions and acknowledging their criticism. It’s also likely a reflection of the sheer inertia that Exemplar has generated. We’re on wave five now, which is a remarkable track record. Finally, selection bias could easily be at play here — I make no claims that my Facebook feed is a perfectly representational cross-section of the program or anything like that. But it is the best data I have right now, so I’m going to roll with it.

One comment I did notice a couple times was something along the lines of “I worked so few events this wave, so it was hard to come up with nominations.” This mindset is understandable, but it troubles me greatly. Thanks to the various regional Facebook groups, Slack channels, JudgeApps forums, and even blogs, I feel that it ought to be easier than ever to observe exemplary behavior outside of events — to say nothing of judges in your own city or local community. Looking at my own nominations from this wave, five of them were for judges within my own region. All but one of those nominations were related to very public projects that occurred within the past few months.

Perhaps the disconnect arises because our social communication channels aren’t actually that effective. Burnout is real, and social media burnout no less so. Being constantly “plugged in” can easily backfire and overwhelm us with information. A “Like” isn’t always a good indicator of engagement, but could just mean “Me Too!” Some groups have a lower signal-to-noise ratio than we bargained for, maybe even without us realizing it. These are concepts that anyone who takes a role in managing an online community (myself included) would do well to remember.

Or perhaps the issue isn’t that our social communication is poor, but that it’s simply difficult to relate to actions that we haven’t seen directly. Human nature suggests that we are generally unmoved by cold, faceless statistics; it’s individual stories that elicit empathy and drive us to action. Absent a framework with which to judge stories about major projects, it’s challenging to determine whether or why these initiatives could be exemplary. (Indeed, I’m guilty of this on some level: With just one exception, all of my nominations were for judges whom I’ve met in person — although several went to judges whom I haven’t seen in months, much less at any point during Wave 5 itself.)

On reflection, I think that both ideas have some merit, and could well be contributing factors to this phenomenon.

But I know the real reason that “I couldn’t come up with nominations because I didn’t work many events” bothers me, and it isn’t either of those. It’s because that statement implies that events are the primary or even exclusive way in which we observe exemplary actions. This is something that I profoundly reject. It’s true that without events, there would be no need for judges. But without our community, we wouldn’t be judges.

If the statement were something like “I wasn’t very active this wave, so I couldn’t come up with many nominations,” I wouldn’t have any objection. This is because “active” encompasses a variety of behaviors, both at events and outside of them. It’s practically definitional that a less active judge would interact with fewer judges and, on average, observe fewer exemplary behaviors than a more active judge. But I expect and hope that a judge who is active in their community and on social media, regardless of the number of events they’ve attended, would see a variety of exemplary actions from their fellow judges.

Do you agree? Why or why not? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Ultimately, Exemplar is a complicated puzzle, and in all honesty I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of this one small aspect of nominating judges. Besides the social media and empathy thoughts I’ve articled above, the correspondences between events, activity, and nominations are interwoven with a variety of other issues and challenges — such as the definition of “exemplary,” and whether it should even be our goal to fill all our nominations. While I don’t have the space to touch on these other issues right now, please let me know if you’d like me to do so in the future!

Until next time, may your actions always be exemplary.

9 thoughts on “Empathy and Exemplar-y

  1. I recently received a comment along the lines of “I thought of you mostly as a community judge, so I was surprised to see you work so hard at an event.” My reply was that “events are part of my community” and the opposite holds true as well. Binaries can be quite restrictive. Cats v. dogs being an example that I saw someone post about. Why not both?

  2. I want to say I couldn’t agree more. I feel like this should be added as a caveat to every post about the program. If you want to support the exemplar program but you’re only looking to nominate people who work events with you, I feel as if you’re missing a tremendous opportunity. If everyone with nomination slots took the time to look at their local scene and beyond for Judges who contribute to the program in other ways, we’d see many more nominations made. Thanks for writing about this, Bearz! πŸ™‚

  3. “It’s because that statement implies that events are the primary or even exclusive way in which we observe exemplary actions. This is something that I profoundly reject.”

    Is this not the case for the majority of judges, though? In other words, isn’t it true that for many judges, events ARE the primary way they’d encounter exemplary behavior?

    How many L2+ judges are actively involved in concrete community initiatives (formal projects or otherwise) that are entirely unrelated to events?

    1. Although asking how many L2s are actively participating in community initiatives outside of events is an important question, the answer is actually tangential to my argument. The viewpoint I’m advancing is that involvement in community initiatives isn’t at all a predicate for recognizing great community leadership. I believe that L2 judges should be seeing exemplary community-focused actions on a regular basis, simply by being members of both their local community and the broader judge community.

      Does that make sense and address your comment?

      1. If the L2+s in question are not involved in those community initiatives, how are they supposed to recognize exemplary work within it?

        If they’re not involved in those initiatives, they likely wouldn’t be able to recognize exemplary actions other than the most visible parts of it, and only if they directly benefit or follow those initiatives.

        If they’re not involved in or using the results of those initiatives, then how would they find exemplary behavior to recognize from within those initiatives?

        As far as I can tell, the primary way that most judges engage with judging is through events. If that’s the case, then judges who aren’t involved in community initiatives are only really going to be able to encounter exemplary behaviors at events.

        1. All of the questions you’ve asked are good ones, and I’ll answer them later in this comment.

          But first, I want to address one seeming disconnect, which is that your questions are oriented largely around “community initiatives,” which I’m taking to mean formal projects and other semi-organized initiatives. However, community involvement is so much more than those. The judge community exists persistently, online and in person. Some examples of exemplary (non-project) community involvement are writing judge articles, presenting at a conference, writing a great tournament report, organizing a social event or meetup, clearly and insightfully participating in discussions on JudgeApps or Slack, and many other possibilities.

          Now, simply being involved in the community is not exemplary. Let’s take the specific example of writing a judge article. Even though writing a judge article involves a fair amount of work (research, writing, editing, rewriting), publishing an article is not inherently exemplary. But when someone does a really good job with a judge article — the kind of article that makes you go “I learned a lot from this!” or “I want to share this with L1s in my area!” — that’s very likely to be exemplary. And, to connect this back to the article, I believe that social media like Facebook and Slack should make it easier than ever for judges to find out about these cool articles, even if the judges who write them are geographically distant from us.

          With that said, I’d like to return to this idea of community initiatives in the context of Exemplar. You raise a very good point about the inner workings of a project versus its output. When a project does something awesome, who should be recognized? When Exemplar Wave 5 was open, another judge reached out to me because they wanted to recognize the folks involved in the level re-definition. While I know that the former L4s/L5s were all involved in the discussions, I didn’t know who from that group contributed what specifically. So ultimately I suggested using Toby or Lems as proxies for the whole group. This gets the point across, but isn’t really ideal in terms of actually recognizing individuals’ contributions.

          This issue has come up and now and then with projects I lead (e.g. JudgeApps). The way I reconcile the problem is to deploy my own recognitions to highlight the exemplary members of my own team. I also take a lot of care into highlighting which developer contributed what when I write announcements for the JudgeApps Blog. To make it more concrete: if someone wants to thank the JudgeApps team for adding the submission date to the applications list, I hope they’ll recognize Jernej, not me. (For L1 project leaders who don’t have Exemplar recognitions, or for judges of any level who don’t have enough, I expect that reaching out to an RC or another senior judge could help address that deficit.)

          Another part of your comment talked about judges recognizing exemplary actions “only if they directly benefit.” This goes back to my comments about empathy in the article itself. I think we are biased towards recognizing behaviors that benefit us directly or that we connect with in some way. For example, I don’t certify too many L1s. Let’s say a really good judge article about certifying L1s comes out. I might overlook nominating the author because the article doesn’t connect with me. And that’s a bit of a shame. I think we should push ourselves to recognize exemplary behaviors of all kinds, even if they don’t benefit us directly.

          Finally, you state that “the primary way most judges engage with judging is through events.” This is a really interesting debate/point that easily deserves its own post. My own experience is that a big part of what makes judging special is that the community exists and persists outside of events. I can log into Slack, or IRC, or any number of Facebook groups and find judges. Many of my best friends are judges, and they’re the people I play League of Legends or Hearthstone with in the evenings. I self-identify as a judge, and being a judge means more than just “someone who judges events.” While this certainly isn’t true for all judges, I think many L2s are similarly plugged-in. And so I think that being active members of this persistent community should help L2s learn and hear about exemplary things that their fellow judges are doing, even if those L2s aren’t actually judging much.

          1. Thanks for the thorough comment! The specific examples of non-project-related community involvement that could be exemplary is very helpful.

            I think this could be advertised more loudly in communications about exemplar too (e.g. by highlighting recognitions that for some of these more off-the-beaten-path things, like slack conversations). If I’d thought of Slack as “yet another way to hear what we’re all up to” (instead of “yet another chat – on top of all the others – on top of work and personal ones”), I might’ve joined sooner, for example πŸ™‚

            Regarding the broader sense of community, and how that relates to exemplar –

            I think the overlap there is pretty fuzzy. I’m in a similar boat as you are: A lot of my friends are judges, and many of them I’ve met through the program and appreciate their friendship – despite having actually worked together only rarely. It’s true that the community exists outside of events.

            But are you going to see exemplary JUDGE behavior during a League of Legends match with those friends?

            My judge friends are fun, awesome people, and I’m lucky to have them. But I still need to see them do exemplary things related to judging, in order to nominate them. Unless they’re visibly involved in some specific areas of the community (e.g. articles, conferences, slack – to include some of your examples), I’m just not likely to nominate them as exemplary, because I won’t see the exemplary things they do (or hear about them from others…until after the wave ends, when I read their recognitions).

            Given that the center of our community is, by definition, events, it just makes sense to me that those are the primary font for exemplary behavior – and I can’t really see that as a bug, since ultimately we want to encourage exemplary behavior not just to pat each other on the back but to keep running kick-ass events.

            But you are definitely right that we should broaden our scope for where we look for exemplary behavior (again, your specific examples in these comments have been very helpful in better understanding what you meant in your post). I would suggest that there are many angles of attack here – one of them is the direct method: Telling people to consider more things as exemplary.

            Another is to broadcast those other areas of the community more loudly. Maybe as wave deadlines approach, have the exemplar blog (and community leaders with public figure pages on social media) make active reminders of these other sources for exemplary behavior – even going as far as linking to, say, Battlefield Forge or articles.

            Maybe we have more articles on the exemplar blog itself about what it means to be exemplary – even conversational ones, like this.

            It’s important to encourage people to actively look out for exemplary behavior – but if we want to keep engagement (and satisfaction) with the program high, we should also do everything we can to make it easy to find, too. Even if it’s technically true that there is exemplary behavior all around us in the program, if it’s a chore to find (which means not just “difficult” or “tedious” but also “I don’t feel a personal connection to it” – all of which are normal reactions that everyone goes through in a program) then it’ll happen less. Which would be a shame.

            The prior few waves I had used all my nominations. This wave, I didn’t – indeed, I feel like I didn’t “get to”, like I couldn’t find enough examples to give good recognitions. I think about that a lot, and I’m looking forward to seeing more things this coming wave, and will use some of the examples in this article to help refine my lens to better see more examples πŸ™‚

        2. Often judges do things where they dont work with other judges. For example, a local judge does a great doing outreach to get many LGSs that wouldnt otherwise hold PPTQs to schedule them, and travels to them often an hour to two hours away. During these events he often doesnt have another judge, or works with a very limited set of judges. Why isnt this exemplary behavior. Other judges may not even know he is doing this unless he self-promotes.

          One of the first and one of the most deserved nominations I saw was for a local judge who was running an outreach program in a local library. She did an incredible job of enlarging the Magic community with new players and donated cards to help them get started. If I hadnt been there when she was looking for a replacement one weekend due to a conflict, I never would have known about this.\
          My understanding is that part of the goal of the Exemplar program was to get away from rewarding the judges on the GP/SCG circuit and get recognition for those engaged in the community or doing things at a local level.

          If someone says, I cant write nominations because they didnt work enough events, perhaps the response should be “Dont just look at events. What are people doing in your community. Interact with the judges there, even at FNM, judge gatherings, or even boardgame nights. Get more involved in your community”. We need to be recognizing the grassroots, not just the people working big events.

          As is often quoted, 98% plus of Magic is regular REL. Lets start recognizing the people facilitating this!

    2. It might take less exposure than you think to notice good work outside of events. I’m an L1 who’s been recognized twice, three times if you count one I’m told was submitted this wave (obviously still subject to approval). All three of those were for work that happened outside events: getting involved early when I certified, helping out in judgechat, and contributing to discussions on our regional slack. The people who wrote those recognitions may well do most of their judge work at events, but even tangential involvement in those other venues gave them the opportunity to see and appreciate what I was doing.

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